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Short Takes on Film
Ben Nyce | Via Latina


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“Force Majeure” may still be around when this review appears. It’s a deadpan comedy of manners which turns slowly into a mournful meditation on human frailty. Writer-director Ruben Ostlund gives us a postcard perfect Swedish family on a skiing vacation in the French Alps. Everything seems fine except for the ominous avalance guns firing day and night and the creaking sounds of ski-lifts and frozen snow crust. Tomas and Ebba and their kids are having lunch on the deck of the hotel when an avalanche suddenly rushes toward them. In the chaos that ensues Tomas grabs his iPhone and gloves and flees, leaving Ebba with the children. A few minutes later he returns to resume his lunch as if nothing has happened but Ebba can’t overlook his behavior. The crack has been revealed.

They are joined by two friends who listen to Ebba’s depiction of the incident. The husband defends Tomas. He’s shaken too by the threat to masculine strength. Ebba also encounters a handsome woman who is there with her “toy boy” and who advocates her open marriage. Gender roles are challenged and the children are suddenly fearful Tomas and Ebba will divorce. The conventional façade of middle class security is fracturing. All this takes place as the camera slowly pans the crystalline beauty of the mountains. Tomas seems to regain himself when he rescues Ebba during a white-out. Their bus trip as they leave the resort is a harrowing affair in which Ebba displays her own vulnerability to panic.

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For home viewing see “Japanese Story” directed by Sue Brooks. Toni Collette carries this small film, playing an Australian geologist who takes a Japanese businessman deep into the outback of the Pilbara desert (magnificently filmed) only to have him perish when he dives into a lake. The film shows the interplay between the formal Japanese culture and the free-wheeling Australian, wonderfully enacted by Collette. The last third involves her experience of Japanese ritual as the widow comes to collect her husband’s body. The slow pacing of these sequences, accompanied by Japanese music, is especially touching.

Nyce wrote “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorsese Up Close.”


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